With a new 18-race Pro Stock schedule for the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, starting quickly will be imperative. That’s been the focus of all the top teams heading into this weekend’s annual iconic opener, the tradition-rich 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
That mindset could bode well for a KB Racing team that includes world champs Greg Anderson, Jason Line and Bo Butner. The trio has won eight straight Winternationals and nine of the last 10, and Line has five wins in that span, making him no stranger to early-season success. It’s a trend the veteran hopes to continue this weekend in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro.
“There’s no pressure, but if you want to win them all, you have to win the first one,” Line said. “Every race is important, and you’d like to start off well, so it matters for sure. I’m looking forward to being better. We see the opportunities to do things differently in the shop as a positive for us. We’re going to get better as the year goes, for sure, but this first race still matters.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10. It is the first of 18 events during the new-look 2019 NHRA Pro Stock season and there won’t be a repeat champion after Tanner Gray departed after last year.
But plenty of top-quality competition remains, including 2017 world champion Butner, and Elite Motorsports teammates Erica Enders, a two-time world champ and Jeg Coughlin, who has five world titles and finished second a year ago. The veteran performed well down the stretch in 2018 and hopes that carries over to this weekend in Pomona after an extremely productive off-season.
“I feel as though we're the best prepared we have been for the start of a season,” Coughlin said. “Testing went really well. We had a top-running car at end of last season and basically the team made some enhancements on what we were doing then and now it's time to see where we stack up. I'm excited for season and anxious to see if we can capitalize on the huge momentum we built in last year's Countdown (to the Championship).”
Chris McGaha built early-season momentum a year ago, winning two races in the first half of the year. He wasn’t able to replicate that success during the playoffs, but count him as another driver who enjoyed a strong winter. That has revitalized him and now McGaha has his own high expectations heading into Pomona and for the rest of the year.
“We were extremely busy this off-season,” McGaha said. “I’m very happy with the progress that we have made from our off-season efforts and we’re looking forward to showcasing them on the track. I’m optimistic that we made the right calls to turn our on-track performance around.”
The Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com is the first of 12 races before the Countdown to the Championship begins, which puts an additional onus on performing well right off the bat. With a strong lineup headed to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Anderson, who last won the event in 2016, knows the importance of starting the year on a positive note.
“I think it’s more important than ever,” Anderson said. “There isn’t a lot of room for a bad race or a mistake, and you can’t start off in the hole. You can’t win the championship in the first race, but if you get off to a bad start it can have a pretty big impact on you later.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 9, at noon and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.